Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

Stressed out?

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”  – Charles Spurgeon

There’s plenty to be stressed about these days, and so much of what makes us anxious is beyond our control. On the other hand, there are really practical things we can do to reduce stress in our lives. Some of the best advice on that is found in the book of Proverbs. Let’s take a look.

Plan ahead. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow. One way not to have to worry is to have a plan – whether it’s for raising children, advancing in your career, saving money, or serving God.

Set good priorities. Part of planning is prioritizing. Find your priorities and follow them consistently.

Choose friends carefully. Get close to friends who will walk with you through joys and sorrows and will encourage your faith in our loving God.

Always tell the truth. It’s too much work to remember what you told to whom. Truth-telling is not only biblical, it’s safe!

Find good counselors. Proverbs is all about getting good input. In fact, it talks about having an abundance of counselors. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

Keep your finances in order. Make it a goal to spend less than you earn. Debt creates stress!

Help others. Step up when you see those who have needs they can’t take care of by themselves.

Trust God more than you trust yourself. As much as we’d like to, we really can’t trust our own thinking sometimes. That’s where God comes in. Trust him first and always. If everything follows from that foundation, stress will be calmed.

If you haven’t read the book of Proverbs lately, this might be a good time to revisit its amazing wisdom!

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh . . .”– Proverbs 14:30a

It will make sense – eventually.

God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.” – Peter Marshall

Why? is a question we find ourselves asking a lot. Why doesn’t God heal me? Why can’t I find a good job? Why aren’t my prayers being answered? Why, God?

Sometimes there are identifiable answers to those why’s. Maybe we’ve made bad decisions and need to correct them. Maybe we’ve wandered from God and need to reconnect. But, at other times, we sense there’s more to the story than what we see.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey at the beginning of the week of his crucifixion, the disciples watched, and John says they “. . . did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him” (John 12:16). They didn’t understand because they didn’t have the whole story – yet.

Later, just before the disciples and Jesus had their last Passover meal together, Peter objected to his Lord washing his feet. Jesus responded, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand” (John 13:7). In other words, just wait until you see how this ends. Then it will all make sense!

Sometimes we can understand the here and now only in light of what happens later. This requires trust that God is good and loving and powerful and will not allow our suffering to go unaddressed. Our cries are heard and our why’s will be answered – when we see how the story ends.

 “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18a

Power

“What wings are to a bird and sails to a ship, so is prayer to the soul.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Have you ever fantasized about what you’d do if you were in charge of the world? The fantasy doesn’t last long, does it? The problems are great, and we have so little power to make a difference.

But wait. We may have more power to effect change than we realize – maybe not on a grand scale, but, instead, in our circle of influence – people we know up close and those we reach through media.

What power do we have?

First, there is the power of words: Some of you are great at engaging in discussions about important issues. Others know how to say just the right things to people in distress. Still others have great powers of persuasion. We can use our words, whether written or spoken, to urge, comfort, and counsel. Our timely words matter to someone!

The second is the power of community: Sometimes it is who you know. We may not have what we need to make the impact we want, but we may know those who do. Power isn’t simply added when we include another – it’s multiplied!

The third power we have is spiritual. When we pray, God hears, responds, directs, and, yes, empowers. One simple, weak, tired thing we do can be supernaturally empowered by the Spirit to make a big change in this world.

We shouldn’t feel powerless. We cannot do everything, but we can do something! What is the “something” God is putting in front of you to do today? It matters!

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, . . . that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,” – Ephesians 3:14,16

About Leaders

The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” – John Stott

Think about leaders you know. Some are on the world stage as leaders of nations or, in other ways, are international influencers. Others are more local – in our communities, churches, businesses, and families. You can learn how to lead by attending seminars, watching videos, or reading books, but maybe one of the best ways is by observing.

I’ve been reading recently about Moses and his confrontation with Pharaoh about freeing the Israelite slaves. In their conversations and God’s responses (ten devastating plagues!), we see two kinds of leaders at work.

Pharaoh was was ego-driven, power-hungry, inconsistent, angry, and stubborn. As a result of his decisions, Egypt was devastated – crops and livestock wiped out, military might destroyed, and there were unimaginable personal losses for every family. His people suffered greatly under his leadership.

Moses, on the other hand, has been called the humblest person ever born (Numbers 12:3). It was also said of him that God talked to him face-to-face as a man speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11). Moses wasn’t perfect, but he did his best to follow God’s direction and to live by his principles. As a result, God’s people were set free under his leadership.

Whether we lead or follow, we must acknowledge that leaders matter. So, when we have a choice, let’s choose carefully who we will follow. And, if we lead, let’s do so with Moses-like humility and authority. That’s leadership God honors.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” – Hebrews 13:7

How does God really feel about us?

God loves us not because we’re lovable, because He is love. Not because He needs to receive, because He delights to give.” C. S. Lewis

Most of us have been taught that God loves us. We hear it in children’s songs and in the earliest verses we memorize. But, do you know that he also likes us? On some days, I find it much easier to believe he loves me than that he likes me; but, look at this verse (and there are others like it in the Bible): “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).

It’s hard to understand how the God of the Universe could take pleasure in a mere human. And what exactly pleases him? According to this verse, that this human is in an appropriate and loving relationship with him. Apparently God likes that. I think of him as a doting parent who smiles at every advance we make, cringes at our mistakes, aches over our sins, and protects us from going too far outside his loving boundaries. He loves us because he created us, and he likes us because we are all unique beings with our own personalities, quirks, and ways of relating to him.

He is our teacher, our guide, our heavenly parent. He delights when we respond to his instruction. He smiles when we return his perfect love with our human, less-than-perfect, version. He rejoices when we do the right things and is saddened when we take a wrong turn. He loves us completely and, on most days at least, he likes us, too!

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. – Psalm 16:11

Hearts’ Desires

“. . . it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us . . . We are far too easily pleased.” – C. S. Lewis

What is the most important thing to you? What does your heart desire? Some of us have given in to desires that now control us: Food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, approval, unhealthy relationships, senseless accumulation. We really want to change, but every time we try, we fall back to old habits. Could it be that our desire to be freed from those controls is not as great as our desire to keep things just as they are?

This is where God steps in if we let him. He wants to give us what truly satisfies, not just the immediate comforts we reach for. He can actually change what we want. He can give us new desires. It happens in marriages when a troubled couple falls in love all over again. It happens in other areas, too.

I heard of the testimony of a young woman with an addiction. Soon after giving her life to Christ, she said she no longer had a taste for what she had craved uncontrollably just weeks earlier. God had taken away her old desires and replaced them with new. That’s what he does! For her, it was immediate. For many, it happens over time. But our short-sighted desires are eventually replaced with better ones.

God knows our true needs. So, he helps us want the right things. Then he fulfills the desires he plants within us. Result? Freedom from enslavements. Empathy for others. Love for God. Please, Lord, change our hearts!

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

Quiet, please.

Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.” – John Ortberg

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we are powerless to do anything about: world events, governmental decisions, someone’s cancer, choices of a wayward child, or even the weather. What do we do when we can do nothing to make things better? Maybe we sit back, get quiet, open our hearts to God, and watch him work.

For some of us, taking our hands off the controls is a difficult first step. But there are times when we can get in God’s way by not letting go. It’s not that we don’t care or won’t do what he directs us to do, but there are times when we need to consciously let him take over while we stand aside. It worked for Moses at the Red Sea and for Joshua when he needed a longer day (ever want one of those?), and for the disciples when thousands showed up for lunch. They each had a problem they couldn’t solve, but they knew Someone who could.

Some of us are at a Red Sea moment in our lives right now. Maybe it’s time to stand aside and watch him work: No suggestions, questions, complaints. Just watching in silence and awe.

God can accomplish in a split second what we cannot do in years of working, worrying, struggling, and, (dare I say it?) nagging. For most of us, letting go and staying quiet is the hardest part, but God may be waiting for us to do just that. Catching up with him may mean sitting still.

“The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.”
– Habakkuk 2:20

My way? God’s way? Or both?

“God does not give us everything we want, but He does fulfill His promises, leading us along the best and straightest paths to Himself.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Crossroads in life are hard as we try to figure out what God wants for us. How can we be sure we are choosing the right path? The Gospels show at least two ways God guides our lives.

Sometimes he gives instructions directly. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and he would be the Son of God, she is shocked, but then says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38b). God told her what he wanted. She said “I’ll do it.” God often initiates his will in our lives and we need only to respond. The Bible is generally the conduit of or at least the confirmation of those instructions.

Sometimes he hears our cries. We want something and begin to pray about it, asking God to lead and to fulfill our desire. We initiate and wait for God to respond. When the Centurion asked Jesus to heal his sick servant, Jesus commends the man for his faith and then says, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed” (Matthew 8:13b). Sometimes God wants us to tell him what we want, and he will respond in a way that keeps us in his perfect will. Our faith, our desire, and our initiative matter to God!

Whether it’s our idea or his, we need to ask him to show his signposts, then follow. An adventure awaits!

“. . . the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:17

Good or Bad?

“According to Jesus, there are no good people, only humble people and proud people. He favors the humble and opposes the proud.” – Brant Hansen

Are you trying hard to be good?

The archetypal “good boy” in the Bible was the rich young man who asked Jesus what good thing he had to do to ensure his eternal life. Jesus responds by telling him if he wants to earn eternal life by being good, he has to keep all the commandments. Check. Have done that all my life, he says. OK, then, Jesus says his true goodness will be evidenced by his selling everything he has, giving the money to the poor, and then following Jesus. But that’s too much to ask, so he goes away sad.

The problem? He was good. He wanted to do good things. He wanted to have eternal life with God. But, he was proud of his own goodness, and he didn’t want to hear he might be wrong.

Later Jesus was talking to religious leaders and tells them that the “bad” people believed the truth about Jesus, but they, the “good” people, didn’t believe even when they saw credible evidence. Jesus zings them with this: “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him” (Matthew 21:32).

Neither the young man nor the religious leaders were willing to change their minds. They refused to believe they might be wrong. The problem? Pride. In God’s eyes, spirituality is not about goodness and badness. It’s about pride and humility. Giving up our way for his.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:10